Veterans share war experience

Adrian Northrup

During a time of war, the general population often misses stories from the soldiers serving overseas, but on Thursday, Zorn Arena echoed with those stories.

Sgts. James Downen, Baldwin Yen and Todd Bowers took part in The Forum’s “Iraq War Stories from Those Who Served” discussion panel sponsored by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

Freshman Kyle Siegrist said he wasn’t sure if The Forum was going to be balanced and didn’t know what to expect beforehand.

“They presented many different points of views,” he said. “The stories were interesting and they hit close to home with a lot of people.”

Both Downen and Yen served in the Army, with Bowers the lone Marine on stage.

Downen was deployed to Afghanistan in the summer of 2003 as a part of the civil affairs branch of the Army.

“Our job was to interact with civilians and essentially keep them out of the way of the military,” he said. “We assisted the government and people in getting back on their feet.”

Downen said he switched to working in information operations, which helped the media cover the happenings in Afghanistan.

Yen was deployed in November of 2003 in a reserve unit of the Army. He said much of the equipment his division used was outdated.

“Our radios were Vietnam-era in quality,” Yen said. “Our flak vests would stop shrapnel but were useless against the AK-47, which is the weapon of choice in Iraq.”

He was later sent to Baghdad, Iraq and the Green Zone, which is the center of the U.S. government in Iraq. He said it was a far different atmosphere than the rest of the country.

“The food was some of the best I’ve ever had,” he said. “When talking to a pastry cook, I found out he was being paid $120,000 a year and I thought to myself, somehow the Army can afford this baker, but can’t afford updated equipment.”

Yen closed with a story about a military funeral.

“All those numbers of casualties on the news are people and they deserve remembrance in their honor,” he said.

Bowers described his duty in the civil affairs branch of the Marines as being the “Band-Aid with the rifle.”

“I didn’t understand our job until I saw injured civilians running out of their villages and asking us what they were supposed to do,” he said. “At that point I realized our purpose.”

Bowers said he had a life-changing experience when engaging an enemy in northern Fallujah.

“I was looking through my scope and saw someone aiming right back at me,” he said. “I realized what I was doing and what I had to do.”

Bowers said building schools and rescuing civilians isn’t considered appealing as a headline and it makes the job harder.

“Scars of war aren’t always the physical wounds,” he said. “It’s those frustrations you feel when you’re over there that people aren’t going to see the good you are doing.”